While some people hail Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to shift Smriti Irani from the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) to the Ministry of Textiles, others cannot stop speculating about how her role has changed in the BJP’s strategy for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections.
Controversy has escorted Irani since she was appointed the HRD Minister in 2014 and some people seem to think that this apparent 'demotion' will keep her out of headlines. It is also seen as a sign of disapproval from Modi for the politician earlier 'favoured' by the PM.
However, it may just be a clever decision to still keep Smriti Irani as one of the most important cabinet ministers and yet quell controversies which have dogged her at every step of her stint as the HRD minister.
It definitely seems to be a calculated move by the BJP leadership.
What the media and some people deem as a ‘demotion’ might actually be a covert promotion. According to a Hindustan Times report, Irani said, “It is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream to boost the textile industry.”
And that is exactly why Irani has not been demoted in reality. Her portfolio has only been shifted to another but equally important ministry, which eludes the media eye. Ajoy Bose also points out in this FirstPost article, "The real reason, of course, is that textiles ministry, by its very nature, is a far less high profile department than HRD, quite unconnected to academics or Dalits which should allow Irani to stay out of the public limelight for the moment."
According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation, India’s textile sector is one of the oldest industries of the Indian economy. It is also the largest contributor to India’s exports. It is currently estimated at $108 billion and is expected to rise to $223 billion by 2021.
The Indian textile industry is also closely linked to agriculture, which is also in a dilapidated state under the present central government. The farmers’ crisis has paralysed the economy to some extent.
According to the annual report by the Ministry of Textiles, the industry contributes to 10 percent of manufacturing production, 2 percent of India’s GDP and 13 percent of the country’s export earnings.
The 12th Five Year Plan constituted by the Planning Commission envisages India’s exports of textiles and clothing at $64.41 billion by March, 2017.
It is also the second largest source of employment generation after agriculture. The industry employs about 45 million people directly. Indirect employment, which covers manpower for the production of agriculture-based raw materials, includes another 60 million people.
India is also in a favourable balance of trade in the textile sector. Exports exceed imports of textile . According to the UN Contrade data released in 2015, India is the second largest textile and clothing exporter globally. The exports have been increasing annually as well. The industry has seen a growth of almost eight percent.
The textile industry is also deemed as a self-reliant industry which produces raw materials and delivers its own products.
Irani’s induction as the Minister of Textiles is possibly to materialise Modi’s promise of keeping a focus on the textile industry. According to a report by The Indian Express, Modi said at an election rally before the 2014 general elections that weavers were an integral part of the city’s history and have been neglected for a long time.
In the 12th Five Year Plan, the various segments of the textiles got a total outlay of Rs 1038.10 crore. The central government has also announced a grant of Rs 6000 crore to the textile industry.
Considering that the textile industry is pertinent to the growth of our country, it is unlikely that the BJP government would bestow it to a ‘failed’ minister who has been embarrassing the party.
The Modi government may not actually consider Irani to be a failed minister or one who has not met the PM’s expectations.
Ajoy Bose, in his article, also points out that textiles is important for both Modi's home state of Gujarat and the weaving looms of his constituency Varanasi. It is therefore, "unlikely that the ministry would be used for stop gap appointments."
Irani’s shift can be an attempt to keep her out of news for a while and redeem her image before the crucial Uttar Pradesh polls. Rumours have been doing the rounds that Irani can be BJP’s chief ministerial candidate.
Textile industry, which some say is a less significant ministry as compared to the HRD Ministry, is vital for our country’s revenue.
Some people are gradually realising the importance of the Textile industry as these tweets suggest:
— Tele Mohan (@Mohaniya88) July 6, 2016
#ByeByeSmriti this one is real stupid trend, she has not gone anywhere rather emerging with more powers and responsibilities
— QueenBee ♕ (@vaidehisachin) July 6, 2016
— Madhavan Narayanan (@madversity) July 6, 2016
btw Smriti Irani has been given a ministry that is crucial to Modi's constituency (Benarasi weavers).
— Rahul Roushan (@rahulroushan) July 6, 2016